The British are coming!
For the upcoming spy pic "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," Swedish director Tomas Alfredson manages to whittle the sprawling John le Carré spy vs. spy novel into a twisty-turny Rubik's Cube of a feature film. Not a small order, considering it was originally made into a seven-part BBC miniseries in 1979.
Packing the running time to capacity with complex examinations of Cold War loyalty and betrayal among an MI6 intelligence agency that's sprung a Russian leak, Alfredson assembled what could be considered an elite guard of English actors to fill just about every part, large or small. Star Gary Oldman, who plays enigmatic lead character George Smiley, is already talking sequel, and we have a list of all the main ingredients that have made this batch of Brits a force to be reckoned with.
5. Toby Jones
At 5 foot 5 inches, this pocket-sized performer first pricked up our ears providing vocals for Dobby the house elf, taking what could easily have been the Jar Jar Binks of "Harry Potter" and making him ... well, tolerable. Jones played another strange creature with a weird voice, Truman Capote, in "Infamous." A string of great character roles followed, including gun-toting grocery bag boy Ollie in "The Mist," Dr. Zola in "Captain America" and a spot-on Karl Rove in "W." He'll go animated once again in this month's "The Adventures of Tintin" before getting us ready to rumble as "Hunger Games" announcer Claudius Templesmith. May the odds be ever in his favor.
4. Mark Strong
Ahh, the big screen's villain du jour. Born Marco Giuseppe Salussolia, Mr. Strong is to bad guys what Morgan Freeman is to voiceovers after going up against Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and a 10-year-old girl in "Kick-Ass." Even when he snags a rare good-guy role, like Sinestro in "Green Lantern," he still winds up breaking bad by the end credits. However, like all the shady characters in "Tinker Tailor," his conflicted agent Jim Prideaux exists in a moral gray zone neither good nor evil, which we suppose makes him Superman compared to some of the other scuzzbags he's played. Look out for Strong's glowing blue eyeballs in "John Carter."
3. John Hurt
After he burst (pun intended) onto the scene in "Alien," the legendary Hurt was fortunately not typecast as an easy lay for facehugging monsters, although he did reprise Kane for Mel Brooks in "Spaceballs." ("Water my ass! Bring this guy some Pepto Bismol!") Even without his Oscar-nominated role as "The Elephant Man," he's enjoyed a varied career opposite Harry Potter, Hellboy and Indiana Jones. This year, in addition to his small but crucial role as spy ringleader Control in "Tinker," he also got to follow in the footsteps of Sir Laurence Olivier and Liam Neeson, both of whom he'd worked with previously, as the funky old-man version of Zeus in this fall's "Immortals."
2. Colin Firth
Though he may have only clocked onto your radar knocking boots with Bridget Jones or belting out ABBA in "Mamma Mia!," the recent "King's Speech" Academy Award winner has been around longer than you think. Firth was part of the success-bound Brit Pack of actors to emerge from the other side of the pond in the late '80s, alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, Tim Roth and his current costar Gary Oldman. In this film he plays charming agency bigwig Bill Haydon, who's not-so-secretly having an affair with Smiley's wife.
1. Gary Oldman
Filmic chameleon Oldman gives the word "eclectic" new meaning, playing deranged creeps like Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald and Count Dracula, while also infusing do-gooders like Commissioner Gordon and Sirius Black with ten-tons of sympathy. Even among such classic roles, Oldman's take on John le Carré's signature spook George Smiley is a standout. His taciturn façade masks an intellect sharper and more deadly than a viper's fangs, and he'll do whatever is necessary to smoke out the traitor at the top of the circus. FACT: Oldman has never even been nominated for an Oscar. FACT: He probably will be for this.
And Our Top 2 Younger British Dudes in 'Tinker Tailor':
2. Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict who? Cumberbund? Cabbagepatch? Start getting that name right (CUMBERBATCH!) because you'll be seeing this classically trained up-and-comer plenty more, whether he's leading the charge in Steven Spielberg's "War Horse," hoarding gold as a rich bastard of a dragon named Smaug in "The Hobbit," or giving Robert Downey Jr. a run for his money as a contemporary Holmes on the BBC's "Sherlock." In "Tinker" he plays closeted gay field agent Peter Guillam, who works as Smiley's intrepid assistant during the nailbiting mole hunt.
1. Tom Hardy
The bane of Batman's existence has become a hot commodity since his 2008 breakout role as the psychopathic "Bronson," who took so many trips back to prison you'd think he had a season pass. After inserting himself into many a female moviegoer's dreams via "Inception," Hardy has capitalized on his lethal combination of brains and brawn to land several big roles including "The Dark Knight Rises." This will all culminate next year when he (God willing) finally goes beyond Thunderdome in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Can he top Mel Gibson? One thing's for sure: Two men enter, one man leaves.